Wall Painting from Pompeii
Just who exactly is this person beside me? Any of us who are, or have been married, may have asked ourselves this question from time to time. Our spouses have undoubtedly wondered the same thing.
I once heard a standup comic say that men were really silly, because they married a woman thinking she would never change, but that women were even sillier, because they married a man believing he would change. 🙂
Anyone, married or not, can begin to peel away the layers of the false self with the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit, with contemplative prayer, with a deepening of self-knowledge, and often with the help of a trusted friend, psychologist, or spiritual director. Those who are married, however, have the additional help inherent in the married state. The love, trust and intimacy in the relationship provide a perfect environment for taking off the masks, revealing deep-seated fears and anxieties, and for baring our souls. Because of the intimacy and trust between the spouses, much of the false self can slip away, many wounds from childhood and youth can be healed, and a new level of inner freedom can be attained. This is a huge function of marriage, and this is one of the reasons why marriage is a vocation. There will undoubtedly be periods during the marriage when the stripping away of the false self of one or both of the spouses causes almost unbearable pressure; it may seem as if the marriage cannot be sustained, but Father Thomas Keating, in, “Invitation to Love. The Way of Christian Contemplation”, helps us to understand what is really happening, and how very important it is:
“Actually, difficulties arise whenever a committed relationship is succeeding. Love makes you vulnerable. When you feel loved by God or by another person, you do not have to be self-protective. Your defenses relax and the dark side of your personality arises, not only into consciousness, but also into your behaviour, to the dismay, perhaps, of your spouse. Hopefully, your spouse is having similar experiences. One purpose of the sacrament of marriage is to provide the grace to process each other’s dark side. In this way, marriage becomes a school of purification and transformation. When a couple bears with each other’s failures, dark sides, and weaknesses, they minister the love of God to each other. Human love is the symbol of God’s love in the sacrament of marriage and communicates it to the other person. The committment to marriage enables one to get through the process of self-knowledge and to reap the benefit of this enlightenment.”